Tomatoes are a popular and versatile fruit that can be grown in a variety of settings, including containers. We do love the look of row after row of raised beds, but home gardens don’t always need to take up a lot of space to be productive.
If you have a small space (or if you’ve run out of precious real estate in your raised beds), then growing tomatoes in containers is a great way to control the soil quality and the amount of water and sunlight the plants receive—plus you make better use of your limited space to grow something you love.
That being said, not all tomato varieties are well-suited for container gardening. We will explore the best tomatoes for containers and provide some tips for growing them successfully so you can reap the rewards of having fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season.
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WHEN TO PLANT TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS
Tomatoes grow best when the average high is 65 degrees and above and there’s no chance of frost.
Here in Central Texas, we have two opportunities to grow tomatoes: once in the spring and then again for a short growing season in the fall.
Since tomatoes will spend a long time growing before they produce delicious fruits for you, it’s a good idea to start seeds indoors ahead of time or buy well-grown plant starts (young plants) from your local nursery.
Follow these steps to start your tomatoes indoors in January for our spring crop and in late July/August for our fall crop. Make sure to follow the schedule in our seed starting guide to harden your tomato seedlings off before moving them to their new home in a container.
THE BEST TYPE OF CONTAINERS TO GROW TOMATOES
We’re not dealing with something like herbs where any ol’ pot size will do. Large containers and larger pots really work best for large fruiting plants like tomatoes.
Some options include:
- A large container or pot that is 12” to 18” in diameter and at least 12” to 18” deep (terracotta is a great material for a container garden)
- A wine barrel with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage
- A 5-gallon bucket (again, add drainage holes if needed)
- A 10-gallon or 15-gallon grow bag
If you want to grow in a small container or pot, look for micro or dwarf tomato varieties. More compact plants are ideal for anything smaller than a 5-gallon container.
HOW TO PLANT CONTAINER TOMATOES
You’ll plant just one single plant per container. Double-check that your container has drainage holes in the bottom, and then put a layer of weed barrier cloth over the bottom to keep your soil inside the container when you water.
Fill your container almost to the top with potting mix and sprinkle some fertilizer granules on the top. (Don’t worry—I’ll give you tips and suggestions for both in a bit.)
For best results, plant your tomato a little differently than you would plant other veggies.
First, pull off the lower leaves of the plant, and then, in the middle of the container, dig a hole that’s wider than the width of the plant and deeper than the root ball. You’ll bury your tomato plant deeply, past where those first sets of leaves were attached.
Your plant will now look short and stumpy, and that’s okay. Burying it so deep encourages the plant to form new roots along the buried stem, and that strong support structure will be super important in helping your little tomato plant bear all that heavy fruit later.
Set your container or pot somewhere it will receive full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day). If your container will be on a covered patio or porch, pick the side that will allow your tomatoes to get morning sun and late afternoon shade.
Water the soil in the container slowly and deeply. You want the soil to be moist throughout but not flooded.
THE BEST POTTING SOIL FOR CONTAINER-GROWN TOMATOES
It’s important to not fill your container garden with raised bed soil mix or garden soil from garden centers; those are a little too heavy for containers. Potting mix is ideal for container gardens because it contains peat moss, which helps with moisture retention and provides good drainage.
THE BEST VARIETIES OF TOMATOES TO GROW IN CONTAINERS
Thanks to lots of people taking up gardening as a hobby in the past couple of years, seed companies are coming up with more and more types of tomatoes ideal for growing in containers. There’s never been a better time to start a container garden on an apartment balcony or a small patio!
Indeterminate tomatoes vs. determinate tomato plants
You can grow either:
Indeterminate – vining type tomatoes that you will harvest throughout the growing season
Determinate – bush type tomatoes with large harvests for canning and freezing tomatoes
My preference has always been to grow both indeterminate and determinate varieties like cherry tomatoes and roma’s. You do have to offer some kind of climbing structure for the inderterminate vines, but you get lots of juicy little fruits spread out over several weeks or even months of harvests (basically all the way until our first high temps in the summer or our first frost in the winter), while determinate types give you one large harvest and then are done.
Some of our favorite tomato plants are:
- Italian Roma Bush Tomato – The perfect tomato plant if you love to can and make sauce. Most of the fruit on this plant will ripen at the same time.
- Patio Choice Yellow Bush Cherry Tomato – Ideal tomato for container gardening with sweet, yellow fruit, that are perfect for salads, roasting and canning.
- Heirloom Stupice Container Tomato – This plant has short vines that produce a high yield of round red tomatoes.
- Tasmanian Chocolate Tomato – These short vines grow mahogany-red large fruits that are super juicy.
- Litt’l Bites Cherry Tomato – This tomato variety was bred to do well on patios (you can even grow this one in a hanging basket) and bears bite-size fruits each packed with delicious flavor.
- Inca Jewels Roma Tomato – This is one of the best tomato varieties to grow lots of flavorful fruit in a compact space.
Any and all of these are a great choice for your container garden.
THE BEST FERTILIZER FOR TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS
When you first plant your tomatoes in their pot or container, it’s best to start with all purpose granules like MicroLife Multi-Purpose organic fertilizer. After four to six weeks, switch to liquid fertilizer. MicroLife Maximum Blooms is a great option. Make sure to follow instructions on the fertilizer label.
HOW TO WATER TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS
When you’re growing in containers, it’s really important to make sure excess water can easily drain out of the bottom.
Proper watering means coming out in the early morning, checking the top couple inches of soil to see if it’s dry before adding more water, watering long and deep, and aiming your water over the roots instead of the leaves.
We recommend using a long watering wand so that you can get right to the base of the plants. This serves two purposes: It avoids splashing water (and potentially diseases from the soil) onto the leaves, and it encourages the plant to build a strong root system that can dig down deep to find water.
Another great option for deep watering at the root zone is using a Growoya planted in the soil with your tomato plant. You simply add water directly to the Growoya and it will slowly seep water out to the root zone of your tomatoes. It saves time and water and should last several days between watering.
One downside of containers is that they dry out much faster than raised beds, so you might find yourself needing to water plants every day during dry and hot periods.
You’ll know you’ve been guilty of infrequent or inconsistent watering if your little fruits burst open or split. (Happens to the best of us!)
HOW TO SUPPORT CONTAINER TOMATOES
You obviously won’t be able to fit an arch trellis in your container, but most of these plants will still need some kind of support.
Tall plants would love an obelisk trellis that allows their vines to climb upward. You can find obelisk trellises in all sizes to fit your container, but make sure to add it when you’re planting your tomato so that you don’t disturb the roots later.
Even smaller varieties may need small staking or small tomato cages for support. Dwarf and micro plants are the only ones that will not need support.
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW
With proper care, you’ll soon have enough tomatoes to snack on, make caprese salad, and mash up for homemade pizza sauce—all grown in your container garden!
Let us know what questions you have about growing tomatoes and container gardening. We love helping you set up your own kitchen gardens and become confident home gardeners. If you’re ready to set up your garden for the next growing season, now is the perfect time. Click here to start growing with us!